SAN JOSÉ (5 DECEMBER 2019) - The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, concluded her three-day official visit to Costa Rica on Thursday, recognizing the country's human rights achievements and encouraging it to continue opening spaces for social participation and adopting policies that implement the human rights agenda.
This was the first visit of a High Commissioner to Costa Rica. During her stay, Bachelet held meetings with President Carlos Alvarado, executive and judicial authorities, deputies of the Legislative Assembly and the Defender of Inhabitants. The High Commissioner also spoke with representatives of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the diplomatic corps and civil society organizations, as well as representatives of indigenous peoples, trade unions and young activists.
The High Commissioner also opened the regional seminar on the empowerment and political participation of women of African descent, in conjunction with Vice-President Epsy Campbell. The seminar was organized by her Office under the auspices of the Government of Costa Rica and is part of the International Decade for People of African Descent 2015-2024.
In one of her speeches, Bachelet stated that the invisibility of women of African descent at the decision-making level is a consequence of structural discrimination in Latin American societies. "We have to get rid of unfounded ideas of racial and gender superiority that we have carried for centuries and understand that the very essence of our continent is its multiculturalism. Equality is a fundamental right that reinforces democracy and the rule of law, promotes economic development, reduces social conflict and fosters a culture of peace," Bachelet said.
The High Commissioner took advantage of the opportunity to urge the Costa Rican state to adopt special measures to promote and ensure the equal participation of women of African descent in all decision-making processes, in order to reflect the diversity of the country.
The High Commissioner recognized the Government's commitment to the human rights agenda and the important role it plays in both the regional and international political sphere. She commended the legislative development of policies in favour of women's rights in particular, and the high level of female participation in decision-making forums.
She also congratulated the Government on the approval of the reform of the HIV law, which guarantees a comprehensive approach to human rights for people with HIV/AIDS in both the public and private spheres.
In her meeting with civil society, the High Commissioner learned first-hand about the obstacles women face in exercising their right to abortion without facing punishment, which has been recognized for 50 years in article 121 of the Costa Rican Criminal Code in order to protect women's health and lives. In this sense, Bachelet stressed the importance of not only complying with current legislation, but also facilitating access to abortion through the approval of a technical norm that regulates its application, while always respecting women's freedom to decide. She also recommended creating a space for dialogue to extend the legalization of abortion to cases of rape, incest and non-viability of the foetus, and to decriminalize it in other cases, in accordance with international recommendations.
Similarly, the High Commissioner urged the Government to continue implementing measures to prevent pregnancies among girls and adolescents in rural areas and to guarantee free access to emergency contraception within the public health system.
The UN Human Rights chief also met with leaders of the country's eight indigenous peoples, who described the challenges they face regarding access to land and implementation of the right to consultation, and the threats they face as a result of defending their rights.
In response to these demands, Bachelet recommended to the government the adoption of measures to guarantee the protection of ancestral lands and territories, and the implementation of the national consultation mechanism approved in 2018. She also proposed the adoption of mechanisms to protect human rights defenders and called for progress in the creation of a participatory and inclusive national policy for indigenous peoples.
The High Commissioner also held a meeting with representatives of various trade union organizations in the country, with whom she discussed labour and trade union rights. "I consider it extremely important to enable social dialogue, and to include all sectors of society in the definition and execution of public policies," Bachelet said. "I would like to reiterate my Office's willingness to work to strengthen the capacities of state authorities, trade unions and civil society in the use of international human rights mechanisms and standards.”
In the area of migration, the High Commissioner acknowledged Costa Rica's efforts to respond to people in need of international protection. She highlighted the need to speed up procedures for asylum applications, increase measures to facilitate access to health, work and education, and develop awareness-raising campaigns to counter xenophobic discourse. She also encouraged the international community to support the Government in the challenges it faces in responding to the need for international protection of migrants and refugees.
The High Commissioner acknowledged the significant progress the country has made at the normative level regarding the rights of the LGTBI population. "Costa Rica has been key in the development of regional standards, having promoted the advisory opinion 24/2017 of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity as categories of human rights protected by the Inter-American Convention, which has been instrumental in the recognition of human rights of LGBTI people," Bachelet said. She also considered it necessary to adopt a gender identity law that guarantees the right of all transgender people to change their sex.
The High Commissioner expressed concern about the increase in hate speech in the country and recommended the approval of a framework legislation to combat all types of discrimination. She also urged that any evidence of discrimination in the crimes of homicide and assault be recognized as an aggravating circumstance.
In several of her interventions, the High Commissioner emphasized the need to guarantee room for dialogue and participation, allowing organized civil society, including young people, to influence the definition of public policies and legislative measures that guarantee the full enjoyment of their human rights.
Addressing a group of young Costa Ricans, the High Commissioner said, "I congratulate you on your courage and commitment to human rights and urge your activism to be part of you for the rest of your lives. You have the potential to make this world a better place.”
The High Commissioner recommended to the State the creation of a governing body within the executive for the promotion and protection of human rights, responsible for the implementation of a public policy and a plan of action on human rights.
Bachelet left Costa Rica satisfied with the willingness of the State to address the current challenges in fulfilling its international human rights obligations, and reaffirmed the commitment of her Office to continue cooperation on different initiatives and projects that protect human rights.
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